England: Days 15 & 16

Day 15: Mom left for the US today, so I started off the morning with a trip to Gatwick Airport, both so that we could make use of our BritRail group pass, and to give her a hand hauling stuff around. We had a welcome opportunity to talk at some length on the train (a luxury seldom practical amid the challenges of moving a large group from place to place), which we made the most of. After seeing Mom safely to the check-in gate, I headed back into London and joined the family for lunch at the house.

After a brisk afternoon’s loaf, we all headed into central London to meet up with Bill, Becky’s brother, for dinner and a visit to his church. We ate at Wagamama, a funky noodle place of Bill’s choosing which, while a bit loud, had good food and took great care of our group. Each of the kids emerged with a Wagamama T-Shirt, and we all came out with full, satisfied bellies.

We then proceeded on to St. Mary’s, the church Bill attends in London. While it was housed in a lovely old building with abundant stained glass and a balcony with well-worn pews, the service itself was quite progressive, with leaders in their 20’s and 30’s, contemporary worship music, and some downright silly skits. It was interesting to find that much of the music was the same that our church back home uses. While liturgical traditions in Christianity have long had a standard framework to hang services on (and even, before Vatican II, a standard language), it would seem that the music is becoming the unifying element in more progressive circles. (I find this fact a bit alarming, given the fact that the theology in a fair bit of modern worship music seems somewhat suspect.)

We found the people of St. Mary’s to be warm and welcoming, and would have enjoying sticking around longer to visit, but had to get the kids home so that they could get to sleep at a decent hour. Bill accompanied us, and joined us for a glass of wine and a long conversation about the state of the church and the concept of “having a calling.” Since he had to work in the morning, we finally parted company reluctantly and toddled off to bed for the night.

Day 16: Today was Nerd Day! We decided to make a pilgrimage to Hamley’s Toy Store, which I’d read about before heading over to the UK and which we’d briefly spotted from a double-decker bus a few days previous. While I’d expected Hamley’s to be a good destination, it was more than I’d hoped for: 7 floors stuffed with toys of every kind, complete with enthusiastic demonstraters. There were computer games, outdoor games, slot racers, model trains, Robosapiens, Radio Controlled Flying Saucers, machines that made bubbles that burst into clouds of smoke when popped, drawing toys, and big latex bubble-blowing kits all on display. Additionally, the basement featured life-size Lego figures — Hagrid and Harry Potter, huge dinosaurs, and Star Destroyers, to name a few.

The kids had just received their allowance for the week, so had a great time charging among the floors figuring out how best to spend five pounds. (Our entreaties to save some for the rest of the week fell on deaf ears.) Predictably, the majority of it went to the candy shop, which was immense and well-stocked. I gave in and stocked up on a few of my favorite Jelly Belly flavors (Cherry Cola, Vanilla Bean, Cream Soda, and the incomparable Buttered Popcorn), and also picked up a small model London Underground Train Car for my office.

We finally staggered out of Hamley’s, squinting at the sunlight, and wandered a bit further down Regent Street. I was surprised to see a Gizmondo store along the way, and ducked in to ogle. (Gizmondo is a handheld gaming machine, like the GameBoy or PSP, but with GPS and a camera built in.) We continued our tour de geek by dropping in the Apple Store long enough to poke around, admire the Great Glass Stairway, and use the restrooms.

Liam had started feeling poorly an hour or so previous, and was showing no signs of getting better, so we decided to split up at this point. Kathy and Emily went off to do a bit more wandering and shopping and have some girl time, while the other kids and I went home to have some dinner and to put the sick folk to bed.